Courage comes in many forms in professional sports.
For some, it's competing despite a serious injury. For others, it's a willingness to take on all comers.
Sergio Mora's display of courage took a little different tack. He displayed his courage by being willing to say no.
Mora knew what turning down a fight for the world middleweight championship would mean. He'd be derided by the media, taunted by fans, questioned by his peers.
And Mora got a bigger onslaught than perhaps he even imagined when, earlier this year, he said no to a bout against Jermain Taylor that would have been for the WBC and WBO middleweight titles, as well as general acclaim as the top 160-pound boxer in the world.
Instead, the fight went to Cory Spinks, a one-time welterweight who was only too eager to take the challenge and who showed no signs of being afraid of Taylor at all.
The strange thing is, Mora wouldn't have been afraid, either. He had fought Taylor in the amateurs and knew what he would face as a pro.
Yet, when the fight was offered, Mora looked everyone concerned in the eye and said no.
"And I feel like I made the right decision," said Mora (19-0, 4 KOs), who meets Elvin Ayala Tuesday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in a fight televised by ESPN Classic.
Mora said he never even felt a tinge of regret last month when Kelly Pavlik knocked Taylor out in the seventh round.
Though he was derided as "The Latin Fake," a none-too-complimentary reference to his real nickname, "The Latin Snake," Mora said he'd make the call all over again. He simply didn't believe he could get a decision in Memphis, Tenn., in what would have been a home game for Taylor, a Little Rock, Ark., native.
"I wouldn't have been able to knock Jermain out like Kelly did, so no, I don't feel like that could have been me," Mora said. "I'm a different kind of fighter. I outbox you. I'm not a guy who is going to knock someone like that out. I just didn't think I could go into Memphis and get a fair decision.
"I would have taken the fight pretty much anywhere but in one of his Southern towns. You know how it is with an HBO fighter. No matter what I did, I wouldn't have been able to win that fight."
Title opportunities, it was pointed out to Mora, are extremely rare, and many a fighter has trod into his opponent's back yard and left with the belt.
But Mora knows himself and his game and didn't feel he'd be able to win a decision. And he didn't want to blow what could be his only title shot on a bad decision.
When he told his promoters, Sugar Ray Leonard and Jeff Wald of The Contender, they prepared him for what was to come.
"When I said no, all the Contender people told me the reaction was going to be pretty brutal," Mora said. "They told me I'd be ripped a new a-hole and criticized pretty much by everybody. And I was comfortable with the decision and told them I was big enough to take whatever came."
But Mora, who was the winner of the first season of “The Contender,” the boxing reality series that in 2005 when Mora won aired on NBC, was frustrated that others couldn't see what he felt was the logic in his position.
He'd have fought in New York or Boston or Las Vegas or Burlington, Vt., anywhere, he says, but Memphis, Little Rock and the surrounding region.
Make it fair, he said, and he knew he could win. Fight in that region, though, and he was convinced his chances were all but nil.
"Cory Spinks went in there and fought great, and in a lot of people's eyes, he was the winner," Mora said. "But they gave the decision to Jermain and it wasn't even close.
"Even when he fought Kelly, it would have been tough for Kelly to win a decision. I saw fight and (the judges) had Jermain way up, but there's no way. If Kelly hadn't knocked him out, I don't know if he would have had a chance to win."
Mora hopes to get past Ayala in impression fashion on Tuesday, because he knows it will set him up for a shot at Pavlik.
Top Rank is planning Pavlik's first title defense and Mora is one of three names on the short list, along with John Duddy and a rematch with Taylor.
And if the fight was offered with Pavlik, Mora said he'd sign in record time, even if the fight was going to be in Pavlik's back yard.
"Having Kelly as the champion is exciting for the division," Mora said. "This is a division people like to watch, and Kelly's an exciting guy who throws a lot of punches, hard punches, and who starches people. "But stylistically, Kelly Pavlik is someone I can beat. He doesn't have the athleticism or the speed or the head movement. He has great, great power, but you can offset that power with speed, movement and angles."
Mora hasn't fought in more than a year, but doesn't seem concerned. He believes he'll get past Ayala on Tuesday and then hopes Top Rank's Bob Arum comes calling with a contract offer.
That's when Pavlik believes he'll end, once and for all, these questions of his manhood.
"It wasn't about being afraid, it was about being smart and doing the right thing for your career," Mora said. "A fight with Kelly is a totally different situation. I just hope that people can look at that and understand it, but I'm going to go ahead with my career regardless of how they feel.
"I won't be able to really convince anyone until I get out there and win a high-profile fight. And these days, they don't get much more high profile than Kelly Pavlik."
- Kelly Pavlik
- Sergio Mora
- Jermain Taylor